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Exhibitors, We Need to Focus on Business

Today's guest post is by Henrik von Arnold, owner, ENITED Business Events; Henrik von Arnold and Co.

We all know that exhibitions are good ways for exhibitors to meet buyers and colleagues, scout trends, learn from lectures, and gain exposure to the media. I have been happy to have been a part of the Swedish stand as a presenter and moderator for a couple of years now.

And yet, looking around on the exhibition floor, I see ladies with bananas on their heads, a green Hulk, a big guy from Game of Thrones, two “funny” professors in lab coats, and many more amusing things. Why do so many exhibitors choose to be part of the circus, and not focus on the important things? Is it a spillover from leisure exhibitions? Is it to be acknowledged by the media? Does it really work to attract visitors?

It makes me wonder if a not-so-small number of exhibitors understand that the meetings industry has changed. I thought we were trying to distance ourselves from leisure tourism, and instead now are offering platforms for attracting talents, for new research fields, and investors in our communities—the time when we just tried to fill up hotel rooms is long gone. We all have a responsibility to show that we are a serious and important player in destination development and knowledge transfer.

But the circus atmosphere makes it hard for the political delegation visiting the show to understand our approach to meetings, to science, to associations, to the economy, and to corporations. And they make it difficult for many destinations to ask for resources for destination marketing.

Exhibitors and the media can show the way. For example, the Swedes are trying hard to turn meetings into a tool for destination development—not “just” a tool for filling up venues and hotel rooms and providing business for local transportation. That's why, at ibtm World 2016, going on this week in Barcelona, Spain, we are for the fourth time having speakers give short presentations—"Knowledge Talks"—several times a day on sustainability, technology, active learning, and 3D-visualizations.

Let’s focus on understanding the client’s needs, in terms of infrastructure, research and development within universities, trade and industry, skills in learning, and issues like sustainability, safety and security.

This may make me sound like “The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha” tilting at windmills, but I would like to initiate a discussion that would clarify our role and portray our responsibility to be taken seriously. Not boring serious. But interesting serious.

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